On Wednesday morning Vanessa Friedman, who recently replaced Cathy Horyn as chief fashion critic at The New York Times, wrote a piece on Hillary Clinton’s style in lieu of the release of her book, “Hard Choices.” Before the memoir even hit shelves, jokes were made about about Hillary’s wardrobe. One Washington Post commenter suggested that she call the memoir, “The Scrunchie Chronicles: 112 Countries and It’s Still All About My Hair.” In Friedman’s article, she admits to the ridiculousness of our culture’s obsession with not only Hillary’s scrunchies, but also every woman in power’s wardrobe choices. She writes:
Indeed, it’s easy, both while reading the blog and listening to Mrs. Clinton, to want to join in with the laughter and eye-rolling, and cry: “Yes! It is ridiculous. Why don’t we stop all this nonsense?”
But then she goes on to offer a different perspective:
Much is made of the clothing double standard, and how it is unfair to women in power because they are constantly critiqued while men are allowed to get away with wrinkles and gray hair and the same suit (or what looks like the same suit) for days in a row. But the real double standard in the dressing issue is why world leaders and captains of industry are expected to set, and feel the responsibility for setting, the sartorial standards for only one sex.
In sum, Friedman argues that we shouldn’t stop talking about what women in power wear — a stance that not all feminist critics agree with. She begs the question: why avoid talking about something we all do? Everyone has to get dressed in the morning, and whether we like it or not people are going to make assumptions about us based on our clothing.
Rather than side-stepping the issue, Friedman poses an alternative: let’s talk positively about politicians’ style because these women are role models. Instead of looking up to celebrities, who don’t even dress themselves, let’s focus on women who’ve managed to “dress for success” in an predominantly male environment. The problem is not talking about style, rather our tendency to critique women and let men set the style status quo.
But won’t talking about powerful women’s style distract from all the actual hard work they’re doing? Friedman says no, we need to normalize this kind of conversation and thus find room to talk about both. Additionally, she proposes that what you wear can reflect your politics.
But what if you don’t want Hillary to be your sartorial role model? What if you don’t want to dress like a politician or try to fit into a world where men are the ones in charge? Besides, politicians aren’t dressing themselves either. Does wearing a pantsuit mean that you’re challenging the patriarchy, or perpetuating it?
Though Friedman’s attempt to turn a lose-lose situation for most women in power into a winning one is commendable, we still have some questions about her argument. Yet here we are, talking about Hillary’s style. So, should we all just shut up, or keep going? What do you think?
– By Emilia Petrarca